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AbacusBasic: don’t wait for an Apple iKeyboard, get this instead

AbacusBasic: don’t wait for an Apple iKeyboard, get this instead

Pentaform's "computer in a keyboard" available right now - so what can consumers expect of it?
The Raspberry Pi 400 showed the way, yes, but the AbacusBasic is the first Windows-based “computer-in-a-keyboard” product coming to market. It might not be the last. (Image: Pentaform)

Remember that hypothetical computer-in-a-keyboard Apple has applied a patent for and yours truly tentatively called iKeyboard just for kicks? Yes, the very one that’s probably drawing inspiration from the Raspberry Pi 400 that came out in 2020? Well, it seems that there’s an Intel-based product along the same lines available right now, promising most of the same things an M1-based iKeyboard would OFFER but for way, way less money than what Apple would ask for. Meet the AbacusBasic: the first such product capable of running Windows 10 and even Windows 11, if one was so inclined.

The AbacusBasic is based on a customized Intel Atom x5-Z8350 quad-core processor (same number of threads) clocked at 1.45 GHz with a boost clock of almost 1.85 GHz, not bad for a computer of this class. It can be had with 2, 4 or 8GB of RAM and software runs off of a high-performance eMMC module (up to 128GB in size). Storage can be expanded up to 512GB via an mSD memory card, there’s a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI and VGA ports, two USB-A ports (3.0 and 2.0) and a USB-C port along with a 3.5’’ jack for audio output and input. There’s Wi-Fi AC and Bluetooth 4.2 support, as well as a 40-pin expansion header for connecting all sorts of peripherals for simple home projects, a la Raspberry Pi.

Fitting an entire computer inside the case of a keyboard — and a smallish one at that — shouldn’t be all that surprising in 2022, but it still needs some smart engineering to make it work. (Image: Pentaform)

Pentaform, the company behind the AbacusBasic, is heavily pushing the eco-friendliness of this computer and for good reason: not only is this device impressively energy-efficient, consuming considerably less power than any desktop or laptop PC, but its keyboard is made of recycled plastic and biodegradable to boot, so its eventual environmental impact will be minimal (the PC inside it can easily be separated and repurposed in a different casing). It’s light and compact, so it’s actually portable and usable anywhere there’s available power and a compatible display — no need for a mouse, even, as it offers a trackpad on it too!

Now, given the enclosed computer’s hardware specs, it’s pretty clear that this is not a PC one would sensibly use for modern 3D games or video editing, for instance: it just doesn’t have the processing power or storage speed to meet the demands of such tasks. In that sense, an M1-based Apple iKeyboard would probably prove to be a more capable machine overall (if pricing is not taken into account obviously). But for everything else — be it web browsing, social media, HD video streaming, document editing, or even basic photo editing — it should be just fine for most people, especially if we’re talking about the 8GB version coupled with fairly fast eMMC storage.

The AbacusBasic comes with Windows 10 preinstalled but consumers meaning to get the most out of it performance-wise could use any modern Linux distribution instead. (Image: Pentaform)

What’s more, the AbacusBasic may be compatible with Windows 7/10/11 but its prospective owners do not necessarily have to use Microsoft’s operating systems: Pentaform notes that their device supports “all Linux distributions”, which would probably be the way to go with an AbacusBasic in the first place. Linux is a perfect match for low-powered but modern hardware such as this, requiring much less RAM and just typical storage speeds in order to perform admirably in almost all of the above tasks (excluding gaming).

It’s true that, in practical terms, the AbacusBasic would work best either as a second PC for the home to turn to at a pinch or as someone’s main PC if that person’s computing needs are limited to simple, everyday stuff. It’s hard to imagine tech workers, for instance, being productive with it on a regular basis as serious multitasking requires more RAM, speedy storage and maybe multiple high-resolution screens. But this is not what the AbacusBasic is all about: it can be a great little computer for educational purposes (Pentaform actually promotes it as such), it can be a research, word-processing, e-banking/taxes, or basic presentations tool, it can even be a decent streamer or media player for the living room (at 1080p). Basic games are not out of the question (the Atom Z8350 does incorporate a graphics subsystem after all) but one can’t be sure until some actual tests are run on it, so…

The use cases of an AbacusBasic are quite a few because much of the most common stuff consumers need to do every day with a typical PC is not actually all that hardware-demanding. (Image: Pentaform)

A number of outlets have already called this “the world’s most affordable PC” and that may not be all that far from the truth after all: at $150 it really is quite cheap, considering that there’s a keyboard and mouse included at that price. There are a few “stick PCs” based on the same or older Intel hardware that cost a bit less but (a) they are nowhere near as expandable and (b) they need a separate wireless keyboard/mouse combo to operate. So the AbacusBasic really does make a compelling case for itself and people interested in it should probably reserve one as availability does not seem to be all that high already. It is slated for release in June, so… in the next few days, then? Cross fingers!

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